(IN)DEPENDENCE DAY FOR PUERTO RICANS

On July 4, 1898, in the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, the Reverend J. F. Carson read from the Holy Bible, "And Joshua took the whole land, and the land rested from war." He sermonized that "the high, the supreme business of this Republic is to end the Spanish rule in America, and if to do that it is necessary to plant the stars and stripes on Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines or Spain itself, America will do it." That same night, in the Presbyterian Church of Fifth Avenue, the Reverend Robert MacKenzie prophesied, "God is calling a new power to the front. The race of which this nation is the crown . . . is now divinely thrust out to take its place as a world power." Senator Albert J. Beveridge also saw a divine plan. "God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing" he declared. "He has made us adept in government so that we may administer government amongst savages and senile peoples."

On July 21, 1898, the US government issued a press release stating, "Porto Rico will be kept. . . . Once taken it will never be released. It will pass forever into the hands of the Unites States. . . . Its possession will go towards making up the heavy expense of the war to the United States. Our flag, once run up there, will float over the island permanently." On the floor of the US Senate, Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker declaimed, "Porto Rico differs radically from any other people for whom we have legislated previously. . . . They have no experience which would qualify them for the great work of government with all the bureaus and departments needed by the people of Porto Rico."

Note:  “Porto Rico” is not a misspelling by the author of this piece. The United States in legal documents and in speeches referring to the island spelled the name wrong for much of the first 50 years that they controlled it.

This is what “independence” means to a 2016 colony, the last colony in the world, Puerto Rico.  

People may be aware of the recent news that has been highlighting the Puerto Rican economic crisis, 73 Billion US dollars of debt hanging over the head of the Puerto Rican people.  That is over 20,000 US dollars per person living on the island.  

Currently there is a bill that was signed by President of Obama called PROMESA that was supposed to help with the restructuring of the debt for the people of the island of Puerto Rico.  Here are some highlights of the bill:

  • No clear path to restructuring the debt, no clear bankruptcy or restructuring protocol or procedure is outlined.

  • The installation of a Financial Control Board of the island that can overrule any financial decision made and voted on by the people or governmental bodies of Puerto Rico.  

  • This Financial Control Board is allowed to receive “gifts”, no description on what is meant by “gifts”, on the bill though it is obvious this creates the inherent conditions for bribery.

  • The people of the Financial Control Board are to be selected by the US Senate, where Puerto Rico has no voting representation at all, and approved by the President.  Not a single one of these people have to have any ties to the island.

  • The minimum wage of the island will be reduced to $4.25 for workers under the age of 25 on the island, a place where Cost of Living is already drastically higher than most other places in the US.

This bill obviously exerts the colonial rule of the US over Puerto Rico in 2016.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Other things are contributing to the miserable human and social conditions of the island.  

  • Puerto Ricans pay the same amount for Medicaid as any other state or US territory but they only receive 50% of the Medicaid benefits that other states and territories receive.  This coupled with the economic crisis has helped contribute to the closing of hospitals and clinics throughout the island creating a health crisis on the island that is already experiencing the Zika virus scare and the possibility of poisonous gasses being sprayed on the island to kill the Zika virus at the detriment to the health of the Puerto Rican people.  That gas spray is being protested by the people of the island.

  • Schools are being closed and privatized due to lack of funds.  University of Puerto Rico has raised its tuition again making educational attainment ever more difficult for people already struggling to meet high tuition costs.

  • Public Beaches are being sold and privatized to pay for the debt.  Obama also announced the “Promise Zone” which favors US developers to build resorts, entertainment, and high end real estate on the eastern part of the island.

  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will no longer monitor water resources in Puerto Rico because the island’s government owes it $2 million

The slow death of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people through an economic and colonial chokehold has gone mostly unnoticed and unchecked. The reason why it has gone mostly unnoticed is because most people don’t know how it got this bad or that it really is this bad. Until the debt crisis and PROMESA no one really knew anything about Puerto Rico outside maybe Jenifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Many Puerto Ricans don’t even know the history of the island that led to these conditions.  That is due to the incredible refusal of US media to cover things pertaining to the island and, until recently, a scarcity of educational resources detailing the progressive destruction and now, in my opinion, a guided gentrification of the island and slow murder of the Puerto Rican people.  It would take too long for me to detail these things but if anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive read War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis.

Now why have these oppressive forces gone unchecked?  There are many factors that have contributed to the inability for Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters to do so through legislative or political means.  

  1. Puerto Ricans on the island are unable to vote for the President of the United States.

  2. Puerto Ricans have no vote in congress, only an elected representative who can speak to the issues on the island but has no voting power at all.

  3. The Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico is in fact a “Territorial Possession” of the US and therefore any law or decision made by any governmental faction of the island can be, and usually is, superseded by the United States Senate.

  4. Puerto Rico was not allowed to vote for any government representatives on the island until 1941. Electing their first governor Luis Munoz Marin.

  5. 1953 Gag Law made it illegal to outwardly show any support for any Puerto Rican independence movement, which included even owning a Puerto Rican flag.  

  6. 1917 US Citizenship granted to Puerto Ricans, only months before World War I draft is initiated.  This allowed the US to exploit the people of the island for military means as well as recruit island people to the mainland to serve as cheap labor in industrialized cities in the US guised as the “American Dream.” This creation of the Puerto Rican diaspora has created a rift between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans especially through language.

This also doesn’t directly account for the 1943 proposed Tydings bill that outlined a path to independence for Puerto Rico similar to that given to the Philippines that was blocked by then governor Luis Munoz Marin, who ran on the platform “Pan, Tierra, Y Libertad” (translated: Bread, Land, and Liberty).  Why would someone running on that platform vote against the bill.  FBI files show that J Edgar Hoover, a familiar name to Black Liberation movements in the US, had evidence that Marin had made an FBI case against him for drug trafficking and use “disappear” and J Edgar Hoover threatened that he would pursue not only the drug charges but federal fraud charges as well.  This was all the “incentive” Marin needed to betray his people and convince Congress that the Puerto Rican people were uninterested in independence. This wouldn’t be the last time that Hoover would be involved in infiltration and disruption of Puerto Rican independence movements.

Beyond the legislative pursuit, there also have been many different independence movements on the island that have sought to free the people of the island by “Any Means Necessary” if you will.  The US, at every turn squashed all movements towards independence created outside the US corrupted Puerto Rican political system.  Some of the main incidences are listed below.

  • 1937 The Ponce Massacre, the Puerto Rican Insular Police murder 19 peaceful marchers for Puerto Rico independence, including a 13 year old.  They would later use photography and media to create the appearance that the independents instigated the shooting though it was later discovered that none of them were armed.

  • Nationalistas led by Bianca Canales were bombed during the Jayuya uprising in Jayuya, PR by US Air Force in 1950.  Shortly after Pedro Albizu Campos and other Nationalista leaders would be arrested on charges of conspiracy.  Albizu Campos notably would be used for radiation testing while in prison causing him to get cancer and leading to his eventual death.  There are documented claims that others were subject to the same treatment.
  • The Young Lords, a more household name stateside, were riddled with FBI infiltrators, fictitious arrests, and trumped up charges similar to that of the Black Panthers.

  • 1981 Oscar Lopez Rivera is arrested for seditious conspiracy for his involvement in FALN, a Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican independence movement organization.  At 35 years he is among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world.  

This culture of infiltration and subjugation by over policing, AKA “The Trap”, has been existing in Puerto Rico since the beginning of Puerto Rico’s pursuit of independence.  As recently as 2012 the ACLU and the DOJ completed an investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), which was founded in 1898 the year the US occupied the island of Puerto Rico.  The systemic use of the PRPD to subjugate the PR people into docility and fear is apparent through this report. Below are some highlights.  

  • Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death.

  • Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960's.

  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes.

  • Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 police officers were arrested for crimes including murder, assault, and drug trafficking. That's roughly 10 percent of the force.

The similarities between the current state of Black America and the trap used to subjugate black communities through economics, gentrification and disruption of black communities, and the use of the TRAP are eerily familiar.  

Don Pedro Albizu Campos once said “[US] cares more about the cage than the bird.”  Our cage is physical, mental, and spiritual.  Colonialism has infiltrated our very veins through the 118 years of US rule over Puerto Rico. Now as the conditions have worsened for the people on the island to a breaking point independence movements and solidarity movements have begun to take form. It will be a long and difficult road but what more could be worth fighting and dying for than Freedom?  Vive Puerto Rico Libre!

 

Written By Jesse 'SobreViviente' Cosme of Broward Dream Defenders

You can read more from Jesse here.

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